Finding a Friend for After the End of the World: Short Fiction

Finding a Friend for After the End of the World: Short Fiction

She ravaged the remains of the run down 7/11, ignoring the moths fluttering around her head and hand. The flashlight brought them to her, but for some reason it reminded her of death. Maybe it was all the moths she’d see on the boxes of VHS tapes in Blockbuster as a kid, or maybe it was the moth wings brought to mind images of the dance macabre. She suspected it went deeper, but she tried to ignore the thought as she sifted through a pile of half rotten and mashed packaged snacks. It smelled like maggots and rot. She felt crawling against and between her fingers, but her fears couldn’t survive in a dead world. So she buried them. She was so tired of potatoes and tomatoes. They grew so easily and could be so yummy.

She used to love them, but then again she loved a lot of things. Now she couldn’t keep the texture of tomatoes down. Her partner said her eyes looked sunken and urged her to eat. Last night she had her ration, four tomato slices with stale potato crackers. She didn’t make it  past the smell before her mouth filled with bile. They took her plate, and told her man not to waste food. Even at the memory of sourness on her tongue her stomach growled. She’d tasted something that day and though it proved foul it’d been something. Hunger gnawed at her being. She wished they’d ration her more meat or that her man would have better luck fishing the rivers. He came home that afternoon with nothing but foraged mushrooms. She was allergic, but he tried to trade them. It’d been pointless, but a good man always tried. They wouldn’t ever give him what they were worth, and what they wanted to give was a quarter ration of potato.
Bottom line was waste, and she’d been waste. They did not like to feed her much and they only fed her man because he proved large and helpful. He knew science;medicine and botany. Once he planted a magnificent garden and they had so much basil they fried it and put it on top of pasta, pasta salad, grilled fish….

Drool escaped the side of her mouth, she slurped. Everyone knew she couldn’t go on this way. Her “halfie” child would have no milk even if she survived that long. But no she found this gas station outside the sanctuary. They didn’t like her white boyfriend anymore than the south valley supremacists had liked her, but at the very least they let her forage in piece. She never found anything, but today had to be different. Today she’d have coffee and tea and chocolate. A Hershey’s Special Dark with an Almond Joy on the side. Another string of drool escaped her, but she didn’t bother to pull it back.

Food. She needed real food.

Her hand plunged into the heart of the pile and then a sinking sharpness forced her to gasp and pull back. A squeak. A scurrying flash towards a corner. Rabbis. “Oh god”. She looked at her large belly, and felt a kick somewhere near her kidney. She swallowed, and followed the scurrying.

Orange. She raised a brow, peering through her smudged glasses. It was a large hamster covered in long angora like fur. Probably, she thought, the poor thing had once been a prize winning pet. She saw the small mound of dirt out back near the little house, and the tombstone marked with a crudely carved Islamic star and moon above “Mel”. Had it been a little boy or girl or? Did it matter?

Her arm stung, and she held up her light to see bright red drops forming perfectly circular pools between her index finger and thumb. She looked to the scared fur ball and remembered how she always wanted to try Peruvian style guinea pig. She flashed the light on the former pet and it squirmed. It’s hair fell revealing large brown eyes, like those of a plush toy. She swallowed. She used to like toys.

“Would you be my dinner?” she asked softly.

It stared back, eager as though it were waiting, wanting some big crescendo to their encounter. She felt the air thicken, an unspoken tension between two barely surviving beasts. She’d been a woman in her heart and in her mind and in her body. Now? They made her so weak she couldn’t be called anything vaguely human, but she smiled. To her surprise the little beast squeaked, and she jumped, which made it jump.

“Should I kill myself?” she asked “If you won’t be my dinner then should I end this.”

It turned it’s head and began sniffing a dirty aluminum and paper chips package.

“Oh…I see.” She coughed, and felt another kick that resounded through her as though the whole of her were a great empty amphitheater.

Food. That’s all she needed.
She returned to digging, tossing trash and junk aside as unclean insects rubbed against her skin and dirty mushy packages.  Then she felt something slick and smooth, like a glossy mirror but bendy. She gently squished. It crinkled. She pulled back her hand and there she saw a 3 Mustketeers bar. The package almost glistened it looked so clean, as thought he gunk stuck to everything else. She examined it only to find it clean, and so she yanked off her gloves, tossing them aside. Then with gusto ripped it open. She devoured half, the overwhelming and once familiar sweetness made her eyes cross and her heard race. It tasted so perfect on her tongue. A movement caught her eye by her leg.

Orange. The creature squeaked and crawled over her legs and around her, over the garbage and then to her side. Big of goo were stuck in its fur, and now she saw how neglect had left its once beautiful fur unkempt and matted.  It must have been here alone for a good year if not months, scraping by on whatever the family left behind in the riots between the Self-Abolitionist Movement and the Northern White Brotherhood. That’d swept this neighborhood up until…Well, supplies got short. It must have been so alone. And it must have seen the clashes between the Brithouse Gang with their west coast hippy anarchy, at least they’d given her food, and the DPD, who had given her nothing except advice to be self-sufficient. Darwin or Die. Fuck that noise.

What did the hamster think about all this bullshit? What did it think about its ruined life? Did anyone care? Did she?. He must have been depressed, lost, and drowning in isolation.. She looked at the candy bar.  She slowly reached down her hand, and again her eyes met the hamster’s. It didn’t know humanity, but neither did she. She coughed. It jumped, but then it sniffed her chocolatey fingers and slowly extended its tongue. One lick, then two, then several. It climbed into her hand. Her stomach screamed at her, and she shoved the hamster deep into her pocket. She broke off a chunk of the chocolate bar and set it down beside the hamster.

Hunger was everything, but even in that hunger she could still give some form of kindness.

Why Does Blackness have to be Separated from Science Fiction?

Why Does Blackness have to be Separated from Science Fiction?

Why must black authored and black created science fiction so compelled to separate itself from race or be only about race? This question seems like one perfectly crafted in the minds of far too many otherwise smart and interesting people. I say otherwise because the dichotomy is a false one. A few years ago I came across Andre Seewood’s article Freeing (Black) Science Fiction from the Chains of Race , and it has taken me this long to put what bothers me about this perspective into words. My race doesn’t simply stop being because I’m coding, because I’m researching, because I’m cooking. Who I am and how I engage in both activities and relationships is related to my upbringing and education both formally and socially. My being a black author, a black artist, and a sci-fi fan fits together. So why then is my race, my gender, or something else about me so anti-thetical to the science fiction elements or the “story” I tell?

Because for some reason we’ve been taught that “whiteness”, and in America whiteness without the accent, is neutrality. As a result non-whiteness or ethnic displays are outside of neutrality. To be black, to write black, is to be examined for that blackness. This can be a serious problem. Seewood argues  in this essay that “placing the racial frame upon the science fiction/fantasy/or futurist work of African-Americans hastily discard[s] the genuine scientific, fantasy or futurist aspects of the work, which in turn, weakens and /or perverts the author’s original intent.”

While others have addressed the more technical problems of his analysis, I find Seewood takes this a step too far, and asks the wrong questions. The idea that we can just pull race out of experience is one that simply does not make sense and can only be supported by the notion that there are stories independent of race(gender, orientation, etc.) and then there are “racial (gender, orientation, etc) stories”. It relies on this assumption that race doesn’t effect stories in which race isn’t an overt concern, which relies on the assumption that white writers and creators who aren’t examined through a racial lense don’t tell racial stories or stories from a white perspective. That simply isn’t true. Everyone from everywhere has an ethnic perspective.

Lovecraft and Tolkien told “race” stories. Star Trek told “race” stories. Planet of the Apes has overt racial connotations due to the very history of its creation. Nothing is made in a vacuum, and the influences are there. But for some reason race is seen as an other type of analysis beneath the fantasy, the horror, the science, and the dystopia. The ethnic and racial elements of these stories are acknowledged, but they’re never called white science fiction. These stories aren’t chained to race, enslaved to it, or otherwise. While black science fiction and fantasy is somehow othered, as though every black centered story is categorically different and somehow of lesser interest than its white counterparts. Seewood reflects a very real irritation with the world of pop culture, anthropological, and literary analysis. He is right to question where a black centered story must be a race story. But it is the wrong question he is asking, and that has very real consequences to the conversation he tries to start.

6c123b022b82b6431b90fe07de2fab30With all that said I do understand why the question is being asked. The question is why are black stories somehow inherently more about race than other white films. The answer is because people have been defined as white(and primarily straight, anglo saxon, and attractive), and white is universal while anything else isn’t considered so. As a writer, I ask myself what will my story be viewed as? A black story? A race story? OR just a love story between a waitress and a stranger? The desire to have our stories just seen as stories is incredibly valid because often our stories are only filtered through a racial lens. But removing the black from a character’s experience won’t solve that.

Seewood offers a concept to film makers, saying

Alternately, if you do not want to carry racial inequities forward into the future of your story context you just simply have to cast an African-American in the lead role and concentrate on the dynamics of the central “scientific” themes within the story. “

Great.

Cool.

But why does race have to separate? Why do we create this incompatibility where writers and creatives have to choose between blackness and science? It simply feels a lot like when people called me an oreo in high school, as though blackness was separated from me. The thinking was that reading comics wasn’t racial…but it wasn’t something people thought black kids did. That sure as hell sounds racial to me. My race had nothing to do with my comics, but I was black while reading comics. So why do we keep using this language, as though race is only a factor or exists when the story is about race. I think Seewood’s suggestion is awesome, but the fact is the framing of this arguement is so often predicated on the wrong question.

400px-BrainCloud-and-scientist_mango_concept-art_04It isn’t why must this be about race. It’s why is my race so anti-thetical to just telling a story? It’s why is the story assumed to be “racial” for latinxs, asians, blacks, and others but not for (just guessing) 99.9% of whites? The Irish have very ethnic stories, but I’ve very rarely heard Irish centered works in science fiction only viewed or considered ethnically. Black and other POC need to stop letting this be gotten away with. Whites need to stop letting this be gotten away with and accept that they and their ancestors created and were supported by a world where they have been taught to be seen as neutral/universal/default without ethnicity except with convenient.

A few years ago the film The Best Man Holiday was called a “race” film  by USA Today and shocked people that it topped the box office. It’s a romantic comedy. Why was it a race film? Because it concerned the culture, lives, and experiences of black characters played by black actors. Alyssa Rosenberg had a brilliant response in this article If ‘The Best Man Holiday’ Is ‘Race-Themed,’ So Are These Ten Other Movies:

“[…] the idea that culture about characters of color is necessarily about race also creates the assumption that stories about white characters are inherently deracinated. Some white people, like Jews, are exempt from this, and the recent spike in Boston movies has put more Irish-American characters and Irish-American humor to the fore. But for the most part, the experiences of white characters are treated like they’re neutral, rather than representative of their whole race, or revealing in some ways of the pathologies and problems of various subsets of white America.

[…]
So with all of that in mind, if The Best Man Holiday is a “race-themed” movie, so are these ten other movies released in 2013:

1. Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen’s latest, which follows Cate Blanchett as the widow of a man she believed was a wealthy financier, but who actually turned out to be a Ponzi schemer, is a study in the ways in which the performance of whiteness are inflicted by class. […]

2. The Heat: Paul Feig’s buddy-cop comedy is set in Boston, and in Boston Police Department Detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) and her extended family, Feig has endless opportunities to riff on the very particular culture of Boston Irish-American families. It’s a milieu, in Feig’s reading, that demands a strong code of loyalty, even in the face of minor criminality, […]

3. The Bling Ring: Based on the real-life story of a group of California teenagers who began stealing clothes, handbags, and jewelry from celebrities’ often less-than-closely-guarded homes, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is substantially about the ways that white (and Asian) people view black culture as a symbol of affluence. […] Coppola lets their posing speak volumes about the intersections they perceive between race and class, and their attempts to appropriate cultural cachet that isn’t available to them as the children of middle-class and affluent Hollywood operators.

4. Don Jon: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut as a screenwriter and director follows the misadventures of Jon (Gordon-Levitt), who is simultaneously an Italian-American bartender, a regular Catholic church-goer, and a porn addict. […]one of the movie’s virtues is the way it demonstrates how Italian-American traditions persist and interact with the conventions of modern life. Like everything else in Don Jon, the glimpses of ethnic life are turned up to eleven, but that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t perceptive about the compromises young white people who want to honor their roots but enjoy the pleasures, sinful and otherwise, of contemporary life make all the time.

5. Pacific Rim:  […]

6. Star Trek: Into Darkness:[…]If Pacific Rim and Ender’s Game are about how quickly humans will put aside their animosities to destroy a species that doesn’t look like them, Star Trek: Into Darkness asks how far we’re willing to trust people just because they look like us, particularly when they look like privileged, physically perfected versions of us. […]

7. Pain and Gain: […]

8. Admission: […] Admission does some very funny things with the way race is both minimized and played up in the college admissions process.

9. The Great Gatsby: In its juxtaposition of old money to new money, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s linking of new money to Jewish criminality, The Great Gatsby is all about whiteness and status, and what kind of privilege and acceptance money can or can’t buy. […]

10. The East: The white guilt movie of the year. […]

I shortened this excerpt for length and really recommend you check out the article because overall it touches on how if black stories are “Racial” every story about white folk is too even if we choose not to recognize it.

The only reason a black author of science fiction’s rich worlds, gripping stories, and exciting characters would hindered by the racial elements is if the whole of those worlds, stories, and characters is ONLY analyzed through race. Blackness is considered so separate from simply existing. It may shock some people but…a person can be black and just exist. They can exist, be in a story entirely unrelated to their race, and still be black. Take the man from Seewood’s example, cast the movie just like that, and then don’t go around in interviews saying “It’s not a race story! It’s a story about humanity” as though somehow my race or ethnicity or anything isn’t part of humanity and the character’s experience with it.

The very premise of the idea of “Freeing” science fiction by black authors is that African Americans, and ultimately other POC, are stuck with their works being framed by race alone where it is simply not appropriate to do so. That requires comparatives to other work, the suggestion that other works can be viewed in isolation and that the viewer can simply turn off their racial and ethnic backgrounds. We cannot. Plenty have tried. What we can do is begin acknowledging that a story told by a white author featuring mainly (and far too often almost only) white charact

incredible-science-fiction-33-controversial-black-face-ending

ers isn’t some universal story.  I often explain to people, usually white friends, that I’m black but that’s not all that I am but don’t act color blind. Somehow they don’t get it a lot of the time. but it’s really not that hard.

I am black.
I live a black life with black experiences.
Don’t pretend you don’t see race.
Don’t pretend you don’t see my race.
I am black, and just because I am in my role as a researcher or a scientist those aren’t categorically incompatible aspects of me or anyone.

telemmglpict000131613999-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqpvlberwd9egfpztclimqfyf2a9a6i9ychsjmeadba08The worst that can happen with a black character just “being” is an insincere story that feels less like a thought experiment or just the character, but progressiveness that just chooses not to address race. It feels like bullshit color blindness. As forward thinking and refreshing as it can be to have a black soldier talk about his white sweetheart without it being a race thing in Doctor Who, removing the real world context can be both subversive and obscure reality. This character was just a soldier, but ignoring his race was impossible in the context of a Victorian army. But just as impossible to ignore was the that he was a prime example of a good soldier paying the consequences of terrible leadership. He had multiple aspects to him, but he felt like a check off box. Not because he was black, as some suggest, but because he was black and the reality of being a black Victorian  was ignored. He still could have been just a soldier, and his comrades could have treated him well…but he was a black man from the 1800s. I liked the character, but I just couldn’t fully get on bored with the way this was handled.

Somehow my existence as a African American author is one that both confirms and confuses the expectations of those around me, and I am not alone. When you’re a science fiction writer of any kind you always encounter two camps, one praising “hard” scientifically focused sci-fi and one praising the “soft” social commentary and aesthetic elements. But as a black woman in this genre and fantasy I encounter a very different cross sections of these camps both eager to regard and disregard racial elements in my work. Race plays a role, or we focus on the story. Somehow even other black folk have been taught this frame of thinking, and while the conversations about it are helpful and healthy for the black and science fiction communities in general…it is inherently problematic because it derails what the discussion needs to really be about. It asserts that science fiction, fantasy, etc. shouldn’t be viewed via race when the conversation should be about why the hell a story about black folk is somehow only about race.

So often I feel as though people like to make markers, separating blackness from anything perceived as neutral. No race should be neutral before others. No black centered story should be talked about like its a “Race film” or viewed as only racial when there are a thousand more complex science fiction elements happening. Of course  not all stories and experiences and interchangeable. It’d be inauthentic to say race, gender, etc. never mattered just as it would be inauthentic to say those were the only things that made black centered or authored science fiction intriguing. Yet it doesn’t matter either way so long as we keep saying white science fiction is just science fiction and black science fiction can’t just exist as science fiction. In the end we have to reconcile those facts to move forward in the genre and begin building new exciting worlds and stories, black or otherwise.

*****Check Out Works by Black authors here and here******

****Also check out my short science fiction The Bestiary and Life of SVX99: Part One ****

White Men and Machine Gun Penises: An Essay

Listening to white, especially American, dudes talk about weapons is some of the most scary shit on this planet. It’s so fucking fetishistic, almost cultish, and there is this profound disassociation between reality and what they want to be reality…which is faux machismo “in another life I’d be a a successful warrior” fantasies. So many seem to use a love of weapons to make them seem interesting and cool. They may claim to see a gun or a knife as not a toy, but a second later they start verbally masturbating themselves, mentioning how big their gun collection is, uploading pictures to facebook, and seeing any critique on gun laws as a personal attack on them because the dozens of guns hanging in their room are for looks. And the big kicker? These are the same guys who get upset when you point out you have more reason to be afraid of someone like them, when you live in a nation full of men mistaking weapons for their penises or personalities, than a terrorist.
 
Shit is insane.
 
And yes, you little snowflakes, its not always just white guys, but a large number of guys like this are white in my experience from North Carolina to Maryland to the under bellies of the internet. From cradle to adulthood I encountered these folks in the mostly white spaces I entered with alarming regularity. These gun toting men who’re very unaware they can act this way, as though this is normal and shouldn’t ever be questioned, so openly because is because of their privilege. Often these guys are “nice guy” types, nerds, awkward sorts, and the other half I’ve encountered tend to be men bathed in a household where guns were everything to a man. To them they aren’t speaking like guns are toys to be collected like mint condition Barbie dolls or G.I Joes. They don’t see how uploading a wall of guns in their basement with them grinning makes other people cringe and wonder “what if this guy snaps and thinks I’ve wronged him in some way”. They see their 2nd amendment rights, an unquestioned fact for many white people. They expect the world to know he’s dangerous, cool, but also an unquestioned and unfettered example of one of those mythic “good guys” the NRA and GOP like to mention. They laugh over their guns the way they laugh over their penises. Their eye rolling responses to the recent NRA video, which essentially declared that gun owners should attack “they” and “them” to protect “their president” from protestors and left leaning people, and dismissing other gun owners who were alarmed by it seems deeply attached to the “but I’m a nice guy so its ok” attitude a lot of melanin deficient men think is their protection from judgement.

That is a privilege…one I will not indulge and you shouldn’t either.

The problem of course isn’t just owning the guns. I grew up around guns. I’ll probably own a gun at some point, in fact. But there’s something deeply troubling about listening or watching a group of white guys whether on Facebook or in person brag about their weapons in such an open and often times pushy way. The weapons sound like toys, trophies, and the conversations remind me of men flashing watches, talking about houses, wives, and sex. Conversations where even if it isn’t gross there’s a one sided fascination that leads a person waiting for the gun lover to drool and lick their lips.

I couldn’t imagine living that way not just because I’m a woman, but because I’m darker than a Hershey’s kiss.

A black guy? A latinx guy? They’re “just thugs” and the associations both inter-personally and by others are different when they post weapons pictures. However the core function is in many ways the same. That said most know better than to be so…proud of exchanging weapons for character, or to boast so readily in a world where their bodies are considered super human weapons of inherent and imminent danger to others. Those who do either make money off it, or are in a life where they feel they have nothing to lose but everything to gain by being viewed as a badass. A way of being, which I can assure you has some thinking after the death of so many black men and boys…and even women who were believed to have guns or who did legally. Yet we’ll touch on this in general masculinity terms in a second, but just know that’s a response to cultural pressure, poverty, and shifts where guns give power, which is generally tied t racial class perceptions of what is “cool” where power is always cool. Guns are penis extensions, but for the poor and those wanting social approval they get this strange fetish object status which manifests across racial lines with different meanings.

Truthfully that’s a western attitude influenced deeply by western masculinity, whereas the role of weapons and becoming a man are aesthetically similar to other cultures until you dig deeper. Where other cultures tend to hold weapons as weapons, valued, but holding more significance and power than a dick extender (see the Masai, samurai, and numerous other cultures; also note how colonisation and loss of masculine power structures reorganize men around the gun around the world). The difference in part is those cultures tend to hold coming of age rites, and make distinctions of maturation and masculinity tied to a group identity. There is no need for a machine gun pensis…it has already been bequeathed. They have been scarred, taken hunting, traveled outside their communities, they’ve been asked to perform some sort of something or have had something given to them. American culture doesn’t really do that by and large, and when American culture has defined itself by White culture that has impacts.

 
Men using weapons to give a sense of masculinity and identity in place of rituals or rites signifying adulthood in modern culture is a grave condition that continues to associate male power with male aggression. But it makes sense. After all what is easier to produce than that which is already within yourself? Testosterone levels make humans more aggressive regardless of gender, and men have been socialized to angry and emotional so their emotions don’t appear weak. No matter if you are scarred ritually or can afford to travel, you can be aggressive and you can buy a gun. The gun becomes power, power is masculinity, and ergo the gun becomes something as phallic and edifying as the penis.

But why am I talking about white men specifically? Am I a racist?
Nope. Not even a little. I’m a realist, and I have been in and out of white circles my whole life usually as an outsider…a quite observer and very rarely a friend to a select few. I have seen this attitude in action, and have been forced to smile as male friends of friends show pictures of their latest gun buy a world away from the way my father taught me to feel about guns.

The fetishizing of weapons  is exasperated in poor communities of all races, but also in communities whose cultures are so diffuse to no afford members specific identity signifiers. So white folks are “white” they as a group traded, across time, specific in-group positives to become a mass ultimate in-group, i.e the mainstream on every level.. Working class=white. Middle Class=White. People=White. Anything else is othered even if their counted. The result of course is plenty of white folk don’t feel this power, or this trade particularly if they aren’t racist consciously, in public, or in general. Much like how many don’t want to or incapable of seeing their privilege because it doesn’t necessarily manifest in their every day lives.

 
They gain net social power, but in a time when that power is being challenged, and when men in general are struggling to meet the coming of age and personal identity signifiers presented to them they seek out and construct their own. That’s part of why poor black dudes in Bmore ride off-the-road bikes. That’s part of why you honestly see a lot of gun nuts have tied themselves to imagery of the confederate flag etc. It’s a way to psychologically and socially establish what men have come to see as inherent to masculinity, various rites and markers tied to being distinct, part of a hobby/culture, and to feel as though they’ve come of age, have gained power which is implicit in the very definition of western masculinity.
 
White men don’t really have the unquestioned social power they once did, nor do they have an overt strongly felt in-group of identity that isn’t associated with being racist because…white culture was a construct designed to be the definition of normal every day life. American culture praises Machismo differently in every community, and many do not meet those communities standards. Many cannot. They’re too nerdy, quiet, mentally unwell, awkward, bossy, and yes even aggressive. Some just don’t have the money to do the “adult” things they’ve been taught mean they’re adults. But weapons, phallic and powerful, are easy means to satisfy the psychological and social needs taught to males. That’s also one part of why it’s so fucking scary because those who hold power and don’t see it, but feel powerful contingent on a gun that emboldens masculinity which generally excuses aggression…is terrifying. What truly soldifies it is how many of these men think they’re owed implicit unquestioned trust regardless…and that, as a black american raised to be aware of shit, is something I simply can’t afford to give.

Quirky or Cosmic: An Ode to Soft, Magic, Nerdy, Alternative Black Girls

FeaturedQuirky or Cosmic: An Ode to Soft, Magic, Nerdy, Alternative Black Girls

I often wonder why,

People do not like me,

You’re happiness offends me,

You challenge concepts,

You cannot be,”

And I wonder too,

What must they do,

When I weave roses through my hair and do,

A dance across the living room,

In rainbow crochet braids,

Or a violet afro hairdo,

And they say,

You can’t do these things

This can’t be you.

Too dark,

Too big,

Too tall,

Boohoo black girl,

Boohoo, that is all you’re good for,

That is all you should do,

Boohoo,

And I laugh,

Cause I’m the original petty,

Softer than a brown little teddy,

In my teddy,

Getting ready for a night out,

Or the lights out,

With the right mouth,

But I digress,

Because my happiness can show in every breath.

My sorrow raises seas,

My pain rattles the breeze,

My love topples mountains,

My wit so sharp I.Q takers are still counting,

And where I walk the ground splits open,

Head held high to do more than just coping,

The trees bare fruit and you hear satyrs on the lute,

And Yemaya and Oya and Hera,

And Mary,

And Maya,

Sing,

Because black freedom ain’t just one thing.

 

It’s cosmic tonic curing wounds,

And making them,

Giving breath,

And taking them,

Reading comics,

Writing poems,

Bedazzled in lisa frank,

Or leaving nothing to imagination,

But the bones.

Black girl magic to be caring and carefree,

A cosmic swimmer of femininity,

A cosmic start that’ll forever be,

Brown, black, and beautiful as an open smiling sea,

So what must those people think of me?

 

After all aren’t most people afraid of eternity?

 

*******

Being an alternative black girl in any way shape or form results in critics. It’s not us being over sensitive. It isn’t that we’re all lying, as some suggest. It’s the fact that people are afraid of black women. Across the world we’ve been through that which would break most, and we survive. Wounded and hurting, we survive. Men think they’re entitled to us, other men want to degrade us, and use excuses to justify their internalized racism. Women openly mock us while copying our hair, our nails, and the features that once landed black women in zoos and keeps so many from not being on magazines or billboards. We’ve been taught to hate each other and be suspect. The world has been taught to put us in a box, to keep us oppressed and control what the very concept of blackness is or should be.

And we laugh in their faces, and as more and more soft, original, punk, afro-centric, nerdy, geeky, brilliant, and beautifully soul’d black women support each other we’ll just laugh harder. We’re not black enough? I make my own blackness, and how dare they try to define it for me or anyone else. I’ll put color in my hair, I’ll read my comics, dress up as She-Hulk, write my stories, read about technology, date a white, date an asian boy, date whomever I please, and all the while I’m still black.

All the while I and all the other black girls who embrace themselves and their loves are still cosmic.

 

*Artist will be tagged on request…namely because google won’t back search

On Black Cops in America: From a Daughter

On Black Cops in America: From a Daughter

In light of recent events I wanted to take the time to talk about my father, a former police officer, and a black man in the United States of America. Over and over again I hear the same resistance, and the same arguments. I hear blanket attacks on cops, reflecting passion and the same blanket offenses. To me these are understandable reactions, but there is one question that cuts through both in many ways…”What are the experiences of black cops, of black men who work public safety as more than just a bouncer?”. Another way of wording this question: “Does being a cop protect you from other cops?”. When these officers take off their uniforms do they get treated like other black folk do? I’ve known an officer of the law since I was born, and that officer taught me repeatedly that no matter what people will see your skin color before they see anything else about you. Black folk have to prove a world educated in anti-blackness wrong, so we work twice as hard to get just as far and do everything everyone says we should do. Some of us grow up to work in law enforcement, the military,  public service…but when has that stopped us from getting killed or injured? When has that stopped people from assuming the worst of black people and fearful of black bodies?

I don’t know, but I do know this…my father was a black man before he every put on a badge and that badge didn’t change his color.

People talk about cops like somehow being one erases blackness, and while there obviously some very vocal cops who think that way (of all colors) my siblings and I were taught how wrong that was by watching and listening to our father. He was a cop from 1972 to 1990, worked contracted security (Nascar tracks and other places), he worked for the county sheriff from the late 90s to the earlier 2000s, and now he works security for the federal government. That’s 45 years of combined security and safety work from D.C to North Carolina and back. He always liked to have two things on the car…a sticker indicating he was a retired police officer and a free mason symbol. My dad is one of those guys who loves repping his teams so to speak. He still has an old Cowboys jacket we got him for Christmas over a decade ago because of it (and sentiment). But one day not too long ago, soon after he got his new truck, he told me that the reason he always had those emblems on our cars was that he was a black man in America.

No one was going to stop and ask if he was a “safe black man”, no one was going to assume he had his gun because he was a former officer, no one was going to assume he had a gun because he was a lawful citizen, and even as a member of the NRA my father knew they wouldn’t do shit for a black man whose rights were infringed. After all he knew his history. He knew what pushed gun laws and reeled in the NRA was black people with guns stating they had a right to defend themselves, and defend themselves from injustices committed under white supremacy. He knew the internal racism of police departments, of which black. latinx, and other minority officers thought they could join the old boys club by being just as or harder on blacks and latinxs. He’s seen other retired and active cops be yelled at by white officers while trying to assist potentially different situations. He’s been stopped between NC and D.C, and god knows where else and questioned about why he needs a gun by white officers who have literally refused to accept he was an officer in another state or D.C.

He knows being a black police officer will not protect him, or afford him the immediate response of kinship other lighter officers may receive. He was a black man in America long before he was cop, and very few officers raised in a racist society taught by an institution dripping in current and historical racism will automatically assume he is someone who protected the public. These days they may see an older black man, and maybe his age will protect him, but that’s if they look at his face. These days they may see the patches on his favorite vest and see he has some ties to law enforcement, but they have to get close enough to see it. These days my dad knows that his smart and sarcastic son and his bright anxiety filled daughter are too old to automatically get a sympathy (not empathy) from an accosting officer from dropping “Oh my father was a cop” in conversation.

Over my relatively short life I learned all sorts of things from my father both good and bad, both things he meant to teach and not. He’s mellowed in his old age. The man who once said don’t bring a white boy home, smiles warmly at my white boyfriend and enjoys taking the both of us out to eat (If you’re reading I could go for a steak soon by the way, daddy, or an Eddie Leonard’s fish sandwich in the near future). He tells us about the supreme court justices and judges he protects. Nothing much just that they are nice and funny people. We talk about the news and politics a lot more these days. He can’t stand that Sheriff Clark, and says most black officers he’s known can’t either. Every time his face comes on the TV “I can’t stand him” or sometimes “That Tomming asshole”. It usually makes me laugh cause he’ll stop talking and get this sour look on his face, and even interrupt our other conversation. Now sometimes he’s even nice and listens to him talk to reporters, essentially say all black people but him are liars(including other black officers with differing opinions), and that asking for justice reform means you hate cops because apparently demanding them to be accountable is too much. Daddy will roll his eyes, say “Please” while rolling his eyes, grab the remote, and usually turns it something else. Sometimes QVC, but more often the History Channel.

It’s funny to remember that daddy used to be one of those rare creatures, the illusive black republican, a phase my mother still groans about. I can remember that phase too and it was eerily adjacent to his bolo tie and cowboy hat phase. Even then he couldn’t stand officers like Clark, blacks who didn’t just have an opinion(that’s their right), but who silenced other officers and repeatedly were paraded by white higher ups like a willing praised poodle. Why? Because they always claimed there were no problems, that the police needed uncritical support, and that if other blacks just “did right” things would change.

These officers of color say they integrated and flew right, when really they just assimilated, and began believing they were special snowflakes while other blacks were brainwashed and ignorant. They keep their mouths shut when they see injustice, or don’t see the injustice at all because they believe they’re cops first. Hell some of them believe with their white wives/husbands, their pats on the back, and their willingness to readily agree with white officers that their uniform is the only protection they need out in the world. After all they assimilated into white culture, and feel successful under white supremacy. They have their opinions, and consider every other black officer is uninformed. That is their right(and a dangerous one), but when they come out of the side of their mouths and begin to say that all police officers everywhere leave racism at the door? When they say that in light of internal emails, texts and more from fellow officers cracking jokes about black people, our black former president and first family, and about other black officers? No, they say, nothing is wrong. All those racists disappeared when they came along. Much like all those grinning white folk you see in lynching pictures they vanished and turned off every racist comment, belief, conversation and lesson. They’re not anyone’s superiors, teachers, parents, friends, and family. No, to Sheriff Clark and his ilk police officers are without racism or justified in it. So holding cops to a higher standard to ensure they protect everybody isn’t needed, and cops protect all other cops no matter what because racism doesn’t affect justice. We know this isn’t the case, a fact reinforced by the Philando Castile verdict by that officer’s non-sensical words. Justice isn’t and has never been colorblind. Justice isn’t and has never ignored ethnicity. Justice isn’t and has never ignored gender, sexuality, or plain old personality. I wish that was the case, but unlike these officers of color and white officers my family, my play-uncles, play-aunties, friends, etc. can’t afford to pretend it does. Maybe if you get on TV every time your superiors need a cop-friendly brown face you can, but I don’t know many cops like that.

To my father and to me when they say that nothing is wrong in light of entire police departments all over this country being 70% to 90% white with an exceedingly disproportionate arrest rate for blacks and latinx, when crime rates are so deeply skewed because of an inability to pay bail, when again and again black people young and old are murdered regardless of whether they listen to an officer, employ their right to bare arms, or are a cop themselves…they are choosing to believe that they are exceptional black people because they have done everything right, because they disagree, because they’re cops and no cop ever threatens, harasses, or shoots black cops without cause right?

Tell that to the officer shot in St. Louis.

In April 2015 I went to protest in Baltimore in a march I’m 90% certain you didn’t see because it was one of the many peaceful marches in 2015 where reporters stood around looking irritated by how peaceful it was. I chanted for reform in police departments, that black lives mattered, told people that I wondered about having kids because I didn’t know if I could take it if they were as dark as me and they came into a path of a officer whose first instinct was to assume they were dangerous criminals. I marched because I believe in justice and because I care about the black community. I marched because I love black officers, and know their lives and jobs would be better without entrenched racisms. Citizens who want change and believe in the better natures of their people, while still knowing the worst, get involved anyway they can in changing society.

I didn’t tell my parents about the protest. They’d worry, and when they found out…they were more than surprised to say the least. Despite that daddy was proud because he spent years telling his children that black lives did matter and that we couldn’t trust the world to see it. We had to make the world see it. We had to be willing to fight, to be both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and learn the lesson he taught us without ever having to say it:

You’re black long before you are ever anything else.